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Review: Sonic CD (Sega CD)

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soniccd_boxConsole: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $11.99 (used), $23.50 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – PC, PS2/Gamecube (Sonic Gems Collection)
Digital Release? Yes – Steam, Xbox 360, PS3, Android, iOS ($5 on all platforms)

Sonic CD is one of those games that it’s just popular to like.  I don’t want to start on a negative note, the game does have some merit, but it’s not a particularly good Sonic game and doesn’t quite change the universe like many will claim.  Before Sega decided to blitz every console on the market with the digital version, Sonic fans were gnawing at the bit for a decent port (sadly the Sonic Gems Collection ports had emulation issues).  Now that it’s everywhere the gaming community seems to have adjusted to a more realistic view of the CD adventure that throws a few imaginative ideas at relatively lackluster level design.

At one point you're forced to beat Metal Sonic in a race.

At one point you’re forced to beat Metal Sonic in a race.

For those that aren’t up on their Sonic history, the hedgehog was co-created by Naoto Oshima and his more known partner Yuji Naka.  After the release of the first game, Naka and several members of that team moved to the United States and joined with STI (Sega Technical Institute) to create Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  Meanwhile the remaining developers, including Oshima, took the concepts that were in early development for Sonic 2 and expanded upon them into what eventually became Sonic CD.  This is why despite coming out around the same time as Sonic 2, Sonic CD looks graphically more like the original and doesn’t seem to adapt some of the great ideas of the sequel.  Still, it does feature some interesting gameplay mechanics, like the ability to move into the past and future with two full versions of the many levels.  This dual expansion of the campaign does have a casualty: level design.  Many of the levels in Sonic CD feature plenty of wasted real estate in the interest of moving quickly to the right, odd gimmicks that net death if you don’t tolerate the so-so platforming, and several instances where Sonic’s momentum is completely spoiled by a random ramp or springboard.  Despite these layout flaws I still contest that the boss designs are superior over Sonic 2 and prove that not all of the talent in Sega’s Japanese team migrated to America.

Bonus levels liberally used the scale and rotate function similar to mode 7 graphics on SNES.

Bonus levels liberally used the scale and rotate function similar to mode 7 graphics on SNES.

If Sonic CD were to release on a different platform, especially the Genesis, it would not have held up well and definitely couldn’t hold up against Nintendo’s famous plumber but with the weak selection on the Sega CD, it’s one of the few action titles worth playing.  As with most CD titles, the biggest highlight of the game are the cutscenes and audio.  An opening animated scene that tells the basic story and blows away the bare-bones plot of the Genesis sequel.  I think it’s a shame that of all the games that held back when it came to pointless movies on the Sega CD, this is the one game I would prefer to have more, especially to better flesh out new characters Amy Rose (Sonic’s girlfriend) and Metal Sonic (his nemesis).  It’s possible that these scenes were planned and even produced (at least partially) but had to be cut to get the game out in time (it released just before the Black Friday rush on November 19, 1993).  On the other hand, the soundtrack is supposedly spectacular, although if you’ve played it (or if you check out the video that I will be posting shortly) I don’t think it’s any amazing feat.  Hardcore fans and import elitists will tell you that the culprit is the different soundtrack over the European and Japanese version.  The Japanese version featured upbeat pop tunes by Keiko Utoku, a famous singer in Japan, for the opening and closing songs and boss battles sampled the song “Work that Sucker to Death” by George Clinton and others.  In the US, Spencer Nilson replaced almost all of the music (who has a justifiable reputation from his many works on Sega CD first party titles), and the fan favorite song Sonic Boom (performed by Pastiche) were integrated and updated the game to a more contemporary sound.  I still feel there’s something cheerful and dated about the graphics and gameplay of Sonic CD that benefits from the more playful Japanese soundtrack, but neither version specifically blows me away and I personally own the US version.  In all other releases, both soundtracks were made available although Sega made the US soundtrack the default music for all versions worldwide.

A shot of the animated FMV cutscene in the beginning.

A shot of the animated FMV cutscene in the beginning.

Sonic CD exists in a world where major overhauls were ignored in the interest of preserving what made the original title great.  While I appreciate the plot and the fact that levels can change drastically in both pace and difficulty depending on whether you complete them in the future or the past, the only thing that remained unchanged was its weak level design.  That doesn’t mean that there’s not a good reason to play or even enjoy the game, it’s more fun than most of the other platformers on Sega CD, but it’s not the amazing Sonic title that justifies buying a Sega CD (or the Sonic Gems Collection for that matter) like fans would have you believe.  I must admit that I wouldn’t consider a Sega CD collection complete unless it had Sonic CD and its usually one of the first purchases I recommend for new collectors.  As a part of the history of Sonic titles it’s worth checking out at the cheap $5 price tag for digital versions, but curb your expectations appropriately.

Written by spydersvenom

November 30, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Review: Racing Aces (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1994
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4.45 (used), $9.35 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: No
Digital Release? No

Racing Aces is another in a long line of games that came out before their time.  It’s not that the concept is particularly unique – a bunch of different planes involved in a race with occasional weapon combat – but rather that it’s a fully polygonal game trying to operate on a system that just doesn’t have the power.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Sega CD, but I acknowledge that it did nothing more than add some graphical maps and sound channels to the Sega Genesis.  This isn’t very conducive to a fully rendered 3D environment for racing.  As a result it looks and acts much like the Genesis ports of games like Virtua Racing or Hard Drivin’, with large bare environments that are boring to look at and staggered, slow vehicles that don’t make for an exciting battle.  Racing Aces moves sluggishly, the enemies have an unfair advantage, bare bones world, and is a racing game – all negative things in my book – so why do I like it so much?

The game starts off with a training arena that gets you used to using the easiest of the four classes of airplanes, the basic bi-plane.  It allows you to learn navigation, pointing the plane where you want it, and how to navigate the air before throwing competition your way.  It’s during this tutorial level that I learned I had a long way to go and for some reason remained a blocked part of my fond memory of this game.  Racing Aces controls like a computer that has too many processes (which may very well be what’s happening) because all of your inputs have drastic changes to the movement of your plane and come a few seconds after you press them, so it’s difficult to re-adjust yourself after an overshoot.  You eventually get the hang of it but that really means you get used to tapping directions to slowly adjust your direction to just the right spot.  Well until you hit a turn, that is, when everything gets thrown drastically off course and you’re again fighting to fly in a straight line.  Since I’ve never flown a plane before, I guess it’s possible that this is a normal experience for pilots but for those of us just trying to play a game it was a bit specific.  This speaks nothing for the other planes in each class, there are usually 2-4 different ones, which will force you to readjust to even more picky controls.  It’s all worth it once you grind through the hour or so of practice to get your skills up because then you feel like this laughably sluggish race moving at stuttering speeds is actually intense.  By the end of it onlookers couldn’t help but crack up as I inched my way toward a finish line.

Contextually you have to understand that this was the only option in town if you liked Super Mario Kart and titles like it but only had a Sega console.  Granted, it would be cheaper to purchase an SNES and the game rather than chance it on Sega CD, but we didn’t have that kind of hindsight and we were fanboys to the bone.  Racing Aces provided similar racing, especially with the intelligently integrated weapon balloons, that seemed to fuse the graphics of Starfox with the racing of a kart racer.  Unfortunately the barrier to entry is so large, even back then and these days for sure, that I have to determine this game is more work than its worth to get started.  On that same token, though, Racing Aces can be a fun and rewarding plane racer if you put the time and patience into it and you happen to be burned out on the competition.  I just dig it because it has everything against it from programming to framerate to aesthetics, and yet it overcomes that obstacle with gameplay and makes for an intriguing experience and addition to the Sega CD library.  On a final note, I’m quite surprised that Sega, the king of re-releasing titles at any opportunity, didn’t attempt to update this title for future consoles (although the poor handling of 3D on the Saturn may be resonsible).

Written by spydersvenom

November 27, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Review: Double Switch (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $2.63 (used), $7.63 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – Sega Saturn, PC/MAC
Digital Release? No

This is the game that brought it all together and proved that not only was a full motion video (FMV) game possible, it could be properly acted with high production values.  Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure this title completely bombed on the Sega CD, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many freaking copies in the world (both used and sealed).  Despite its commonality, Double Switch is like many other titles in the vast gaming world that starts off solid and becomes a veritable train wreck near the end.  Honestly that’s when its commonality and subsequent low price tag come in to justify the purchase because I still really dig this title.  It’s definitely not without plenty of flaws and if played in long intervals, can easily induce the need to never touch it again.  If you can stomach it, this title does bring with it all the charm of a far-fetched early 90s pop film, which lead Corey Haim should suggest by the very fact he’s cast in the game.  With the proper introduction, Double Switch was a fair follow-up to its much more popular, although purely due to its controversy, older brother Night Trap.

Developer Digital Pictures is solely to blame for the FMV game and it held the most firm grasp and largest library on the Sega CD.  A company that started off as the lead developer for Hasbro’s canceled NEMO game system (that would do basically the same thing with VHS tapes), most of the sales celebrated by the company came from all the controversy of Night Trap.  Even back then there was clear admission that Night Trap was a dated title that lacked almost any interactivity by the player and had terrible acting to boot.  Double Switch, the successor that would follow the same structure without being a true sequel, hoped to address many of these complaints and did a fairly decent job of it.  Unfortunately no one factored in the fact that many gamers thought they would see graphic violence or sexual themes as the sole reason for picking up Night Trap, the return on investment was hardly there.  With what was surely a much higher budget than any similar title at the time, Double Switch was a big gamble that failed and not without good reason.

So what exactly do I mean about high production values?  To start off, there’s the cast.  The late Corey Haim (The Lost Boys, License to Drive) plays the lead in a time where he was just escaping the teeny bopper craze from the 80s, Deborah Harry plays another major character (best known for her singing career), and R. Lee Ermey (drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket) plays the other main character.  This is an impressive video game cast right off the bat (although they do misspell Ermey’s last name as Emery), especially for 1993, and each actor delivers believable performances in what feels more like a small audience play than a movie.  As the mystery unfolds you get to know and like the cast of characters that also include a few famous Hollywood character actors like Taylor Negron, Irwin Keyes, and Thomas Rosales Jr. (look them up, you know all these guys).  To couple this are varied music tracks that accompany certain characters, rooms, and scenarios to keep the soundtrack fresh in comparison to the painstaking repetitive music of Night Trap.  There’s even a song by the band in the game, Scream, entitled Tunnel Vision that is to this day in rotation as one of my ringtones – for selfish reason I’ve included the “music video” (short clip from the game featuring the song) below.  Given the trap-based nature of the game, plenty of set design and Arabian-style art direction do come together in a series of rooms that are individually distinguishable and fun to check out.  Altogether it really is a decent and probably expensive cost to capture all the elements that tie into the game, not to mention what the software developers cost.

That’s where Double Switch hits some of its biggest snags: gameplay and mechanics.  Being that it’s the spiritual successor to Night Trap, you’re still running from room to room capturing the various enemies that try to invade the Edward Arms apartment building.  The game has three acts, each with their own individual tasks, that are properly laid out for you at the beginning of each act.  In Act I, your job is to help Eddie (Haim) escape from the basement he’s been locked in by collecting codes and at the same time protecting the tenants from harm at the hands of those invading the premises.  In Act II you are tasked with utilizing more traps, all hidden and must be discovered by viewing them, to prevent a killer wearing a mummy costume and discover who that person is.  The final Act wraps the game up, ties up all of the loose ends (quite effectively), and reveals the secrets of Edward Arms.  I liked the plot differences and the various tasks, especially given that in each act part of your task is actually watching the video to gain access to certain things.  If you aren’t watching the thugs in Act I reveal the hidden code numbers, they will not unlock and you will not progress.  Similarly in Act II, if you do not see the hidden extra traps demonstrated, you will not have access to them and be unable to prevent the mummy killer from trapping tenants or getting captured themself.  It’s one of those things that once you discover the secret you may be a little annoyed and roll your eyes, but I thought it was a great way to keep you attentive and to assure that regardless of how many times you’ve played you’ll have to watch the movie.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work out quite as well as the developers had planned.  Instead of a single bar that indicates proximity to a trap, you now have to arm specific traps in a room and trigger them as an enemy steps on them.  This sounds simple enough except that the only way to know what trap an enemy is going for or will end up on requires you to have played the game several times and memorized the look or eventual trap outcome.  I’m sure this was to encourage replay, as is probably every other annoying decision in this game, but it instead promotes anger and annoyance.  As the game progresses there’s also a lot of juggling that pulls away from the very costly and mildly entertaining production – for example you may be listening to an important conversation, but a random enemy that can cause an immediate game over appears and thus you must leave the important part for a mundane task.  In the grand scheme the solution is again to begin memorizing those key moments and navigating appropriately, which I can do without a hitch in Acts I & II.  Act III is a different beast of its own because the difficulty ramps to an all time high, the enemy spawns are much quicker, and catching the key moments is basically once every thirty seconds or so.  Since all of the traps used, characters involved, and timing are new, you never quite develop the skills, knowledge, or reflexes to succeed in the difficult final chapter.  Not only that, but all of the important plot is revealed on that chapter and you’re only given 5 chances per save to complete it before having to start the whole game over again.  This is a major problem, especially when you can never see the ending, which I have more issue with now than I ever did as a kid.  I refuse to consult a YouTube video for a person who’s quicker and better than me (I’m sure there are plenty) because this is a reward I deserve when I finally get there, but as of the long 4-hour session last night I have yet to accomplish it.  To get to a wall 85 percent through a game is what I call unacceptable.

Still, for those that don’t get as wrapped up in the game as me it can be a fun little bit of history where a movie game is just fun enough to get addicting.  The video quality is greatly improved over Night Trap and the coding is smooth enough that load times are almost unheard of, not to mention the much-needed improvements with the on-screen display that makes you feel more like you’re in control of an actual security system.  I’ve included video of the first act below but I didn’t want to include any more because it begins spoiling the larger plot points of the game and since I didn’t make it to the end would seem like a poor enticement to watch.  For what its worth, this was the game I spent all of Thanksgiving 1995 trying to conquer and despite its flaws has always been one of the first games I re-collect when I get a Sega CD or give one as a gift.

Written by spydersvenom

November 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Technopop
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $8.88 (used), $39.99 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – Simply known as Spider-Man on Genesis, Game Gear, and Master System
Digital Release? No

As we sometimes see in the 16-bit era, first party published titles became interesting exclusives on either side of the console wars and among the various Spider-Man titles I have to say this is my favorite.  Amazing Spider-Man vs. Kingpin (or better known on all other ports as Spider-Man) tasks you with defusing a bomb set by the nefarious Kingpin within 24 hours (pretty sure that’s not real-time) by collecting keys from different foes in the Spider-Man universe.  This was the first game I played that gave me exactly what I expected out of a superhero title.  It allowed me to play as Spider-Man, it had solid controls that included web slinging and wall grabbing, and it did it all in a side scrolling platformer/brawler.  Not only that, but the game embraces a non-linear structure where you visit locations throughout the city and face whatever is in certain locations, which felt like it freed the game up to your personal pacing, something quite uncommon in the days of early platformers.  While the plot centralized around the Kingpin, you will take on almost all of Spider-Man’s key foes including Venom, Doc Oc, Lizard, and Electro, just to name a few.  Graphically the game had that semi-real grit that Sega titles all seemed to offer in the early 90s with great animated storyboard art throughout.

The Sega CD version was enhanced in several ways.  As with most titles on the console, animated moving cutscenes were integrated complete with voiced dialogue for all the characters – as a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated 90s cartoon, I’m pretty sure the same cast was utilized here.  I must admit that the cutscenes made the game look more cartoon-like, a stark contrast to the traditional levels you would traverse moments later, but they are in the same style as Willy Beamish and I just thought it cool to see Spider-Man come to life.  This game also had collectible comics in various locations, 21 in total, that were digital scans of actual comics that you could explore and read in the main menu, another nice touch.  In all of the  other versions of this game, Spider-Man is tasked with taking photos of enemies to sell to J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle to purchase more web fluid, however in the Sega CD version web fluid is a simple (and common) pick up within the world.  Finally the soundtrack was much better than the cold metallic “beep boops” of the other Sega ports and instead featured a soundtrack by Spencer Nilson (a composer that almost solely did Sega CD titles, known best for the Sonic CD soundtrack) and performed by the rock band Mr. Big.  Of all the updates made to the game, the drastically enhanced soundtrack stands out.

It’s just a fun game of exploration and bumping into the various foes of Spider-Man, which was always the key plot points for almost all of his comics so it felt like your own personalized adventure.  Like so many other titles of this era, it took me more than two hours and several game overs before I even figured out where the enemies are and how to diffuse the bomb, although I’m certain there are a few dozen walkthroughs that can be found on the Internet today.  There’s a twist after completing the bomb diffuse mission that completely twists what the game is about and makes the player more prompted than ever to capture Kingpin.  I was also surprised that it is possible, and frankly for me a bit too easy, to fail in the final fight and have some very tragic endings (I think there are three different endings), which was something I didn’t expect and seemed like an idea Marvel would never approve.  Amazing Spider-Man vs. Kingpin is easily the best port among the different versions on Sega consoles and is yet another stunning example that Sega CD does more than just port a game, but it’s still a bit disheartening that at its core the overall title can be found elsewhere with much cheaper hardware.  In any form, however, it’s well worth a play for retro gaming fans and comic book fans alike; in fact, it’s the sole reason that Marvel continued its licensing deal with Sega and according to developer Randel B. Reiss, two-thirds of all Genesis/Mega Drive owners purchased this game.  In hindsight, a 66 percent attach rate on a specific game is almost unheard of, even today, unless its one of the powerhouse exclusive titles (think a Mario or Sonic game) and Spider-Man should be highly commended for that feat alone.

Written by spydersvenom

November 25, 2012 at 11:34 am

Podcast: Game Club – Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

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This week Fred and guest Rob “Trees” from EZ Mode Unlocked tackle November’s game club title Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse for the Sega Genesis.  They get into discussions about the context of the game to the content, time period of release, individual levels, and even chime in on the soundtrack.

As an added bonus, Fred completed the campaign in its entirety on video (below):

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Written by spydersvenom

November 21, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Feature: Max Payne – A New Perspective

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Growing up, I played Max Payne for the excitement I got out of the gameplay, that slow motion diving and shooting mechanic. It felt perfect when I was in my teens playing these games for the first time. It was over-the-top action fun. I wasn’t looking for realism or a great story, I just wanted to shoot things. The Max Payne games were a perfect fit with their smooth and methodical gunplay.

I’ve played through Max Payne 1 and 2 about four times each, always playing the second title just after the first. It isn’t hard to do. Each game is only about 5 to 6 hours long. If I wasn’t completing one of the games in less than 6 hours it sure as hell felt like I was.

Other things that kept me coming back were the locales. They’re iconic and memorable – a frozen New York City, a grimy subway station, a sleazy hotel, an old church turned gothic nightclub, just to name a few.

“Life knows two miseries: getting what you don’t want and not getting what you want.”

Even though the locales were iconic, the gameplay superb, and the playtimes short, the story of Max Payne was something I had never paid attention to. I haven’t played the first two games in years, but I recently went back and finished them again before playing Max Payne 3.

I originally had no intention of playing the first game again. I own the PC version of the second, but the original Max Payne came with Max Payne 3 as a digital download. Even though I bought Max Payne 3 used, the code was still in the box, unused. I got lucky. I’m so glad I replayed it.

There are no choices. Nothing but a straight line. The illusion comes afterwards, when you ask “why me?” and “what if?”

Max Payne used to be an NYPD cop, but when his family was murdered and he was framed for it, everything went to hell. As he attempted to destroy the people responsible, Payne discovered it wasn’t just a random drug-induced psycho murderer responsible. Forces more sinister, and a story much darker, destroyed Max’s once beautiful suburban ideal.

“The trouble with wanting something is the fear of losing it, or never getting it. The thought makes you weak.”

You probably hear a lot of people say, “Just skip [insert game title] and play the new one because otherwise you’ll get burned out.” This says a lot about a franchise if people think it better to skip entire installments because you might otherwise become bored of the series as a whole. It signifies not a bad game, but one that doesn’t innovate enough, in one way or another, between installments. I hear this sentiment about the Assassin’s Creed franchise a lot. I am now more enthusiastic about the Max Payne series than ever before. I champion for it now, not only for the gameplay and locales, but more for the plot and method of storytelling.

The Max Payne titles follow and adhere to one another as if they were one complete story, with each game referring back to its predecessor, including Max Payne 3. Going back and playing through the first two titles first had a vast impact on my appreciation for the series as a whole – I would not feel the same way had I not gone back.

“Punchinello was burning to get me. The feeling was mutual. He was trying to put out my flames with gasoline.”

The man who created Max Payne is Sam Lake. He wrote the script, he created the story, and he was the literal face of Max Payne in the original game. Lake’s studio, Remedy Entertainment, is responsible for developing the game – of which he also assisted in level design – and also created Alan Wake. (Notice their names sound similar: Alan Wake and Sam Lake.)

I have a newfound respect for Remedy, and especially Lake, that I even want to go back and replay Alan Wake. I’ve realized now, how genius Lakes writing talent is. It’s because I’ve grown up (sort of) that I can appreciate a good story, no a great story, when I see it.

Dialogue in Max Payne 1 and 2 is witty, raw, and drenched in noir style. Coupled with the voice of James McCaffrey, Max Payne feels like a living, breathing, and ultimately heart-broken human being. He’s not a caricature, but a real, sad person. I wish I could meet Max Payne and buy him a drin- er, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Max is a deep character. His interactions with others and the world have weight and consequence. His emotions and attitude have merit. You want him to overcome the death and sadness surrounding him. I felt like I was Max Payne, feeling the stab of every horrible moment he felt, and truly sympathized with him.

All of this is accomplished through Lake’s ability to write, with the necessary help of McCaffrey’s ability to voice act, and McCaffrey’s deep voice to inflect at every opportune moment.

Whoever at Remedy chose to use comic strips as cutscenes had a brilliant idea that lent heavily to the atmosphere. Many of the characters aside from Payne are caricatures by design. This causes a superb effect that brings the entire world of Payne into a surreal comic book existence.

After Y2K, the end of the world had become a cliché.”

But not all is depressing and dark. Lake also wrote some extremely funny stuff, especially in MP2, that will have you chuckling and shaking your head. This lightens up the mood at the most opportune, sometimes even juxtaposed moments. For instance, there’s Dick Justice. Just saying the title makes me laugh aloud: Dick, Justice. He is a rip-off character, his story is Max’s as a blaxploitation television show seen at certain moments throughout the games on TVs and posters. Another is in reference to video games. At certain points Max’s inner monologue will refer to the HUD interface and feeling like he’s being controlled, like in a video game. Don’t forget about the Captain Baseball Bat Boy TV show, which is continuously referenced throughout the series. At one point in MP2, you go to a someone’s home that is littered with fan items. This guy even has a huge full-body suit of the main character, which he is wearing when you find him. If he takes it off: Kaboom! A bomb is strapped to it, triggered to go off if he ever removes the suit. Lake writes in such a way that approaches the fourth wall but never quite breaks it. It’s hilarious and ultimately damn good writing.

Like Alan Wake’s name is a reference to Alan waking, so is Max Payne’s name a reference to maximum pain. Something I have yet to see anyone talk about, even after many Google searches, is Mona Sax’s name. The first letter of the first name and the last letters of the last name spell out “Max”. On top of this, Mona Sax’s hideout is located at a fun house entitled “Address Unknown”. Yet another almost fourth wall breaking item named after the television show with the same name that mirrors Max’s paranoia throughout the second game. This meta-level is when I officially jumped onboard the “champion Max Payne” train.

Valkyr was meant to be a white-winged maiden that would lift you up to a warrior’s heaven.”

Underlying almost every title and name in the game lies something deeper still: Norse mythology. A nightclub entitled Ragna Rock, a drug pivotal to the story is called Valkyr, and the company you storm is named Aesir Corporation. All of these reference mythological entities and locations in Norse Mythology. I had never recognized any of this until this latest playthrough of the games. The scope of the storytelling grew larger during every minute of playtime, as did my amazement of it.

Finally, the theme songs for the series are haunting and excellent to say the least. They raise the hair on my neck and bring me to a state akin to Max’s sad and angry isolation (in a good way).

The storm seemed to lose its frenzy. The ragged clouds gave way to the stars above. A bit closer to Heaven.”

Games rarely have me feel this way, let alone gush about them with love. I feel this way about the original Halo and Mass Effect 1 to some extent, but Max Payne is now my favorite video game character of all time.

They were all dead. The final gunshot was an exclamation mark to everything that had led to this point.”

If you have never played Max Payne 1 or 2, or thought about playing Max Payne 3 without playing the previous two installments, you should go back and give the original two installments a try. Even if you’ve played Max Payne 3 but didn’t understand the main characters motivations and liked the gameplay, or only played the original(s) years ago, like myself, you should definitely consider replaying them. The stories are mature (in the true sense, not in terms of content), and the gameplay is also damn fun. You can complete both games in around 12 hours and then hopefully jump enthusiastically into Max Payne 3 like I did. All of the same praise I have for these two titles continues in the third game along with an amazing finish.

I lied to myself that it was over. I was still alive; my loved ones were still dead. It wasn’t over.”

If interested, my review of Max Payne 3 will be posted in the blog at EZ Mode Unlocked within the next two weeks.

Written by spydersvenom

November 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Friday at the Movies: Jurassic Park (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $1.02 (used), $10.39 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: No
Digital Release? No

When the movie Jurassic Park came out in 1993, it was an absolute phenomenon.  People who had never read the book were picking it up in droves, and from what I could tell through conversation at that time almost no one actually read it.  Dinosaur craze returned in full force as Michael Crichton’s novel about a genetic research company cloning dinosaurs on a Costa Rican island brought out the kid in everyone.  Not only that, Spielberg’s film adaptation utilized cutting edge computer generated image technology along with stop motion and creature expert Stan Winston to create lifelike dinosaurs onscreen that amazed everyone.  Jurassic Park was not only ideal for the medium it was on, the premise was tailor-made for marketing companies to merchandise the hell out of it.  Back then development cycles were short and coordinating a solid game release along with a movie wasn’t so far-fetched, and honestly most home ports of the game were as diverse as it came across platforms and all pretty decent.  My personal favorite has to be the Sega CD port, which merged details from both the movie and the book to create, of all things, a point-and-click adventure set on the island.  The opportunity of exploring the vacant island and interacting with the dinosaurs was a great opportunity, but I didn’t come to appreciate it until I was much older due to the lack of action in the game.

Set shortly after the abandonment of the island in the movie, you’re tasked with returning to Jurassic Park after the tragedy that befell its visitors and recover dinosaur eggs for rebuilding.  Since the eggs are lost and you are unaware of Dennis Nedry’s specimen can, your only option is to sneak into the nest of the 12 given dinosaur species, recover an egg, and return it to the incubator at the visitor’s center.  While locations remain in a controlled environment (you’re forced into fast travel movies that drop you into the screens you explore), there is an awful lot of freedom to roam about.  What I found most iconic is the ability to explore areas like visitor center laboratory and even special access to Dr. Wu’s office, the tyrannosaur paddock and seeing the after effects of the attack on the SUVs that Tim, Lex, and Grant were in, and even a tense trip down the island river (which is never featured in the movie but a crucial part of the book’s plot) as dilophosaurs spit venom at you.  While this sounds gripping and almost too high brow for 1993, you must remember that this game is a true adventure game not unlike the LucasArts and Sierra titles, which means action is few and far between.  Even in the sequences where you do engage dinosaurs, the answer is always some sort of puzzle that usually has you dying quite a few times before figuring out the secret.  I think most people who go into this game are imagining something that is a bit more interactive than it is, but if you approach it with an adventure game mindset it weaves an intriguing story. 

Graphically the game is a bit poor, forced into graphics that are predominantly accomplished through the Genesis and benefits very little except for a few moments of 3D rendered cutscenes and actual MPEG video.  I didn’t have any large issue with the cartoon style graphics and it felt no less menacing when confronted with a charging triceratops, fending off an aggravated T-Rex, or having a pack of velociraptors surround you.  The game gives you a real-time twelve-hour game clock, which is more than enough time to complete the game – once I knew what to do I could tackle this title in about 4-5 hours – but for first time adventurers I can see this as a daunting task, especially because puzzle solutions aren’t always logical.  Parts of this game also feel pieced together, like the random side views on the river and highly rendered locations in the lab, which are best explained in this article I found from one of the devs.  It tells the tale of a wide spectrum idea that includes 3D rendered models, various camera viewing angles, and lots of content that about 3/4 of the design doc were stripped for this more streamlined process.  Probably a good idea considering this title would be lost in the world of half-completed for certain had the concept not been wrangled back in to something that’s a bit more established.  Each dinosaur has habits and behaviors that I can confirm (see above referenced article) were programmed into the game and rely on certain knowledge to overcome the “puzzle” of getting an egg.  While there isn’t much video, the one place you’ll see it is pretty cool in my eyes: they hired well-known paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker to speak in a museum-like short educational video for each species.  These short vids revealed information on the dinosaurs’ behavior and helped you figure them out, although I must admit I still had to look up how to overcome these guys.  I forget which magazine it was, but I’m pretty sure it was Player’s Guide, had a complete 3-page walkthrough that was essential in my eventual completion of the game.  I suggest everyone play this game with a guide handy.

In a genre, time, and film that screams action, Sega decided to utilize CD technology and create a mildly educational adventure game about a lone scientist on an abandoned island of dinosaurs.  It’s a Sega CD game based on a movie in a niche genre and yet I’m sure there were executives who wondered why it didn’t sell.  As for me, it stands as one of the top titles you must pick up if starting a Sega CD collection and thanks to a low price tag, it won’t break your bank as well.

Written by spydersvenom

November 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Podcast: Project Revolution?

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The Secret Technology to the Wii’s Insides

Fred and Rob “Trees” from EZ Mode Unlocked get together to help Nintendo bury the Wii.  A console that soared above the clouds in sales and destroyed the hearts and souls of most core gamers, it has become the official punching bag of this generation.  As usual, we discuss the myriad of titles the console had to offer in probably our largest list of titles and longest podcast yet on the site.

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Please note: Our podcast can also be found on iTunes and Stitcher, if you prefer.

Written by spydersvenom

November 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Video Playthrough: Rule of Rose (PS2)

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Console: Playstation 2
Released: September 12, 2006
Developer: Punchline
Publisher: Atlus (in US)
Value: $48.33 (used), $79.99 (new) (pricecharting.com
Price: $40-$60 (used) (eBay)
Digital Release? No

This article is purely gameplay videos.  It will be updated as the game is completed.  We also discussed and partially reviewed this game on our podcast, the specific episode can be found here.


Rule of Rose – Part 2 (Embedding was removed by request, I cannot control this)

Written by spydersvenom

November 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Review: Sewer Shark (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1992
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $0.87 (used), $20.00 (new) (pricecharting.com
Price: $3-$10 (used) – Since this game was a pack-in, almost never seen sealed outside console bundles
Other Releases: 3DO
Digital Release? No

Sewer Shark is another converted game from the canceled Hasbro NEMO console and was intended to be played using a VHS (just like Night Trap) although how they were going to do it is completely beyond me.  Most of the games I covered last week were good concepts that resulted in okay launch games that were flawed either by long load times or just not fully fleshed out.  I would argue that among the launch window titles, Sewer Shark is the exception.  It is a complete video game that utilizes the video functionality of the console and combines it with simple gameplay mechanics to make a solid experience.   

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the surface of Earth is unlivable and creatures are forced underground to dwell in drab conditions.  Not only that but the creatures of the sewers have mutated, causing larger sizes (scorpions and bats) and hybrids (ratigators – a hybrid of rats and alligators) that make sewers a dangerous world to trek on foot.  As a result, little ships that can navigate the sewers, known as Sewer Sharks, navigate the tunnels to get people around, hunt for food, and offer a promise of the one haven left on the planet: Solar City.  In Sewer Shark you play a new pilot recruit (nicknamed “sewer jockey”) that has the overall goal of retiring in Solar City.  Unfortunately almost every jockey that attempts the trek dies in a sewer crash or by the hands of some mysterious danger in Sector 19, the final stretch before Solar City.  As best put by your co-pilot Ghost in the beginning, you receive, “a name, a boss, a friend, and a reason to live…a million pounds of tubesteak, that’s all you gotta deliver today hotshot!” in order to make it to the end.  This is important because the game has a very simple task – navigate the sewers, kill enemies to collect points (pounds of tubesteak), and once you hit a million you get the final encounter.  It’s a pretty decent setup and definitely a concept not overused in games at that point, unfortunately to collect all this information you have to read the manual and play close attention to the introduction that can be skipped by simply pressing start. 

In terms of how to actually play the game, you’re basically given coordinates by various people that come in sets of 3 and give your required sewer turns in clock directions.  Here’s an example: six, twelve, niner – this means you need to take a down turn (six o’clock is straight down), an up turn (12 o’clock is up), and then a left turn (left is at nine o’clock) in that specific order.  This is the randomly generated safe path for the sewers, miss a turn or take the wrong turn and you will most likely crash and burn (in the first two sets you may live if you make a single wrong turn).  Turning isn’t as complicated as it seems, the indicator at the top of the screen will flash when a turn is coming up and when you see the turn you want, hold B and press that direction to turn.  While you’re juggling turns you also need to shoot enemies on the screen using the target reticule and in the later parts of the game launch CO2 flares when your levels get too high (you’ll be verbally warned, like seen in the video, and you just tap the C button once).  Later in the game there will be enemies that will kill you if you don’t take them out, enemies that drain your energy (which will also kill you if you run out), and there’s a twist that requires you to take visual cues from the screen for your turns.  To prevent your energy from running out, you need to jump into recharge stations (again, you’ll get a verbal cue) that are either at 3 or 9 o’clock and are indicated with a green light on the ceiling, you have to quickly punch in the direction (there will be no turn indicator) to take the side route and get more energy.  Like all other concepts in this game, you should be fine if you miss the first one, but after that you’re tasked with perfection.

This game does a great job at following the basics of game design: introduce all of the mechanics and gradually make the game harder to test the player.  Unfortunately many people would find this upward battle to be incredibly boring (on a good day you’ll be doing this for at least an hour of consistent gameplay, but I’ve logged at least 10 cumulative hours to beat it), so you get an interesting plot with some mystery to it.  I will warn you that every explanation and plot point is dumb and you can actually guess the biggest mystery from the back of the box of certain versions, but until that is revealed it holds your interest well enough.  It’s really a game that tests your reflexes, memory, and ability to keep an eye on multiple parts of the screen at the same time.  By the end of the game I found myself getting a decent rush to see if I would make it to the end.  Apparently Sega also felt this game had good potential because it became the official pack-in game for the Sega CD Model 2 and is easily the least rare game on the console – you’ll be able to pick it up for a few bucks and is usually in stock at any used game store that stocks Sega CD games.  I just like that it was the first game that looked and played like a cartridge console game and finally gave hope that one day CD games would be indistinguishable between cartridge games.  Of course I don’t think we ever got there but CD games did become the norm only a few short years later. 

Sewer Shark is among the many full motion video (FMV) games to be criticized and blamed for the negative connections to the Sega CD, but that is definitely misplaced with this game.  It may not be perfect, but it is interesting and well worth checking out if you ever pick up a Sega CD, especially since you’ll see hundreds for sale in your search for other games.  For those just curious, I’ve provided gameplay video below of the entire campaign from start to finish (roughly 40 minutes).  I should note that near the end I do die and I stopped recording because I never knew that simply pressing start during the credits would allow you to continue at the beginning of your current call sign section (there are four).  As soon as a cutscene allowed me to, I started recording again and I’m glad I did because for the first time ever, I beat the game. 

Written by spydersvenom

November 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

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